Tag Archives | Office Suites

Google Syncs Google Apps With Outloook

Google Apps LogoI’m at a Google Apps press event at San Francisco’s Clift hotel, where Google execs are talking up Google Apps as a Microsoft Office alternative for big companies. They’re bragging about their productivity apps (one rep just said that Gmail is the world’s best e-mail app, period) and touting large companies that have deployed Apps to thousands of users. But the morning’s big news involves something Google is doing to help companies keep on using part of Office–namely Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. It’s a piece of software that lets companies stop using Microsoft’s Exchange Server, but keep on allowing users to run Outlook. As the name suggests, it does so by letting Outlook sync with Google Apps. (It runs on Windows and is now included with the for-pay Premier and educational versions of Google Apps.)

Why would anyone want to keep using Outlook if Gmail is so great? Representatives from big Google Apps customers such as Genentech are here at the event, and they’re saying that some users within their organizations are simply comfortable with Outlook and have no desire to give it up. Apps Sync lets them continue to wrangle e-mail and calendaring in Outlook, and silently syncs messages, folders, appointments, and other data to and from the cloud, so it’s available within both Outlook and Google Apps services such as Gmail and Google Calendar. Companies also get access to all the other features and services that Apps makes possible, such as push Gmail for BlackBerry phones.

Google’s move here is an interesting reflection of the real world, which is one in which Microsoft Office is an undeniable fact of life. I like Google Apps–hey, I’m a customer myself–but think Google has a major challenge ahead of it if it’s trying to lure a meaningful percentage of the world’s companies away from Office. (The company won’t disclose how many paying users Apps has.) Living with Office rather than trying to utterly replace it makes a lot of sense.


Office 2007 Service Pack Boosts Performance

Service Packs are usually limited to fixing bugs, but Microsoft has added some major pep to Office 2007 with Service Pack 2 (SP2). Microsoft says that SP2 is a “major performance enhancement,” and anecdotally, that is what I’m hearing from Office users.

Office 2007 SP2 became available yesterday, and will be available via Microsoft Update in August. It may be downloaded from Microsoft’s Web site.

Jane Liles, group program manager, Office Sustained Engineering at Microsoft detailed the performance tweaks in a prepared statement. “Outlook 2007 SP2 is 26 percent faster than its predecessor on a set of common e-mail tasks and is even faster, 35 percent, with larger mailboxes,” she said.

Further, she added that users now greater control over visual representation of data in Excel, and that Microsoft Office SharePoint Server was given security and performance updates in addition to support for the Firefox browser.

For what it’s worth, a friend that works for a financial company IM’d me today saying that Excel 2007 is now noticeably faster. I’m also seeing similar comments being made in forums across the Web. If you’ve already made the upgrade, feel free to leave a comment here.

Even more importantly, SP2 adds significant support for open document formats. The average user may not notice it, but SP2 makes great strides toward interoperability with support for non-Microsoft document formats such as OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.1, PDF 1.5, and PDF/A.

Now, I just wonder what the incentive will be to upgrade to Office 14. The only thing that I can thing of offhand are the forthcoming Office Web services. That, and Microsoft is holding off support for ISO International standardized Open XML until that release.


Zoho Goes Mobile, But I'm Still Waiting For the First Great Web-Based Office Suite for Phones

Zoho Mobile LogoZoho–also known as the little company that takes on Google in the world of Web-based productivity, and sometimes outdoes it–has released a new version of its Zoho Mobile service for phones today. As usual with Zoho, it’s ambitious: The new version works on iPhones, BlackBerries, Android phones, Symbian phones, and Windows Mobile ones, and provides access to the service’s mail, calendar, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package, and database. Here’s Zoho’s blog post on the news; the suite itself resides at m.zoho.com.

I tried Zoho Mobile this morning on my iPhone, and ran into multiple glitches: The e-mail and word processor looked good, but I couldn’t get spreadsheets or presentations to load properly. And the calendar’s “Quick Add” feature for entering appointments didn’t work. (Actually, I can’t get it to work on my notebook, either.) I just dropped a note to Zoho to see if the company knows what’s up.

Doing productivity well on a phone remains one of the larger challenges in software: I can’t get Google’s iPhone version of Google Docs’ presentations app to work either, and have problems with its spreadsheet, too. And neither Zoho nor Google offers full-blown editing of word-processing documents and spreadsheets in mobile form. (Google does provide some rudimentary editing in its spreadsheet, with an oddball user interface.)

In other words, I’m still waiting for the first great Web-based suite I can use on my iPhone. I’m sure it’ll come along–and Zoho and Google are the two primary candidates to make it happen. But both Zoho Mobile and Google Docs still feel experimental at this point.


The Next Microsoft Office Gets a Little More Official

Microsoft Office LogoUp until now, we haven’t known much about Microsoft’s plans for the next version of Microsoft Office except that they involve Web-based versions of the major Office apps, and that the suite wouldn’t show up in 2009. Today, the company announced more news about the upgrade, including its name (Office 2010) and general timing (technical preview version in third quarter of 2009, final version out the door in the first half of next year). It also released a public beta of Exchange 2010, the server side of its e-mail system, which will enable new Outlook features such as a “mute” button that lets you ignore a message thread.

With apps as venerable as most of the ones in Office, it’s always a challenge for a software developer to come up with significant new stuff that makes for a compelling upgrade. The main thing we know about new Office 2010 functionality remains the browser-based versions (and features in the traditional ones that let them work in tandem with the Web ones). But with Microsoft planning to release a preview version of Office 2010 in a few months, it may not be too long until it’s ready to reveal more. I’m particularly curious whether the radically new “Ribbon” user interface from Office 2007 will receive a major makeover–although the glimpses we’ve seen of Office 2010 so far suggest that any tweaks may be minor.


Google Docs Gets Drawing Tools: Not Bad, But Very Basic

googledocslogo2The permanent-beta culture at Google may be a source of amusement as much as information, but in the case of Google Docs, it’s probably something more: an admission that Google’s productivity suite is still missing some pretty basic tools. Once that Microsoft Office, say, has had forever. Little by little, though, Google is filling in Docs’ myriad holes. And to its credit, it generally waits to do so until it has something that works.

Last night, the company added drawing tools to Docs’ word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation app. They’re based on technology Google picked up from a company it acquired called Tonic Systems, and it’s not surprising that it took them this long to show up–the precision and interactivity required by graphics tools are among the hardest things to implement in a browser, at least if you try to do so without using Adobe’s Flash,

The tools you get are very basic: You can insert various canned shapes (very similar to the ones in Microsoft Office), fiddle with colors and outline widths, do simple lines and arrows, and change the order of objects. Rather than drawing directly on the page, you work in an editing window.

It’s enough to do extremely simple stuff, such as flow charts:


Or, if you’re ambitious, more elaborate drawings (but mine all look a little like digital Grandma Moses–CorelDraw this ain’t):

Google Docs Sketch

The list of features which these drawing tools lack is longer than the one of things it can do. There’s only one font, there’s no way to do gradations or other fancy fills, there’s no drop-shadow effect (although you can fake it), and lines don’t snap into place for convenient flowcharting. And unless I’m missing something, you can’t cut a graphic you’ve created in one Google Docs app and paste it into a different one.

But what’s there works pretty smoothly, and that’s something of an accomplishment. (Google Docs archrival Zoho still doesn’t have drawing tools in its word processor, although its presentation app sports them.) My hope is that Google’s figured out some of the challenging fundamentals of implementing drawing features, and will continue to beef ’em up until they’re at least vaguely competitive with the most important graphics tools in Office. (If you doubt that there’s still a yawning gap between the features in Google’s apps and those in Office, spend some time with Docs’ presentation tool, and then switch over to PowerPoint 2007; even with the new drawing tools, I wouldn’t build a slideshow in Google Docs unless I didn’t care if it looked like it was done in 1994.)

One of the many reasons I’m looking forward to the arrival of Microsoft’s upcoming online versions of the core Office apps is because they’ll serve as a reality check on Google’s progress to date. And drawing tools are one major area where Microsoft has a shot, at least, at delivering something meatier than what Google Docs has to offer.

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Microsoft Office 14 Makes Its Way to the Market

Microsoft OfficeOver at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley is reporting that Microsoft has begun to hand out an alpha version of Microsoft Office 14 to a few testers. We still don’t know much about the upcoming upgrade, which should ship either late this year or sometime in 2010, other than that it will be accompanied by Microsoft’s first full-blown Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Oh, and Mary Jo says there will be a new version of the suite: Office for Sales. 

Office 14 will be the first update to the suite since the radical interface makeover it got for Office 2007; I’ll be intrigued to see whether Microsoft leaves the new look and feel pretty much as is, or reworks it further. It’s certainly got both huge fans and recalcitrant naysayers…


Microsoft Office is Going Online. Now What?

So it’s official: Microsoft will release (if “lightweight”) Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The news came out yesterday at Microsoft’s PDC event in Los Angeles; I was in the audience. And I liked what I saw: The Web-based versions of Word, Excel, and OneNote that Microsoft demoed sported interfaces that looked like real Microsoft Office (including the Ribbon toolbar) and features that looked surprisingly heavy duty (such as conditional formatting in Excel). And there’s plenty of possibility in the notion of folks who use the desktop versions of Office apps and those who work only in the browser being able to collaborate across the Net on shared documents and projects.

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